The Man Who Raised Hubble: Dr. Steven Hawley’s Story



Thirty-one years ago, a generation-defining NASA mission allowed us to peer into space more effectively than ever before. In February of 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit, and the world has never been the same since. Named after Edwin Hubble, a prominent astronomer, the telescope’s main mission was to be the eyes of humanity. Needless to say, it succeeded.

The Measures of Hubble’s Success

The achievements of the Hubble telescope speak for themselves. Imagine you’re standing on a beach, and the sea is spread out all around you, all the way to the horizon. It’s a lot of water, and you don’t know how far out it goes. You know that you can’t even see the end of the ocean, and this is just a small fraction of the vastness of the sea.

Space is like that for us. It’s so big that we don’t really know how big it is. What we do know is that a ray of light travelling from one end of the universe will not be able to reach the other end before the whole universe collapses. And light is fast! It travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. So, if light can’t outpace the growth rate of the universe, what chance does anyone have?

But the Hubble did allow us to find out just how far we could see. The observable universe spreads out to about ninety-four billion light-years. Consider the fact that a single light-year is about 5.8 trillion miles, and you’re setting yourself up for an insanely crazy number. Regardless, discoveries like these changed the course of human exploration in space, and a lot of it can be attributed to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hand That Set It Free

Dr. Steven Hawley was a prominent member of the NASA mission to launch the Hubble telescope, and he was kind enough to have a chat with Betway about his experiences. Though he is a prominent faculty member at Kansas University, he was also one of the primary crew members of the Hubble missions in 1990 and 1997.

Being involved with both, his insights are worth their weight in gold. In total, he recorded about 32 days in space across several space shuttle missions from 1984 to 1999. His most prominent missions were the Hubble launch in 1990 and the Hubble maintenance mission in 1997. He was a flight engineer for both missions, as well as the one in charge of moving the robot arm.

It was his job to lift the telescope from the payload bay with this arm and launch it into orbit. This is a harrowing thing to consider. There was no collision-avoidance software back then. In fact, Steven Hawley was the collision avoidance person – one slight misstep on his end and the mission could go very wrong.

Space’s Own Unique Challenges

One of the biggest deterrents he faced in space was zero gravity itself. The constant need to check whether he was anchored, keeping track of his toes or his pencil floating somewhere else hampered his concentration on the task at hand. Constant distractions seldom make for a great work environment.

However, to combat this, they had noted how long everything takes on Earth and then added 50% to this timeframe to adjust for weightless shenanigans. It was a measure that worked wonderfully.

Fond Memories

It has been 31 years since Dr. Hawley launched the Hubble telescope. After providing NASA with breathtaking finds and doing loyal work for more than three decades, the legendary space telescope is soon to be replaced by a new one – the Webb telescope. But that doesn’t mean Hubble will be forgotten.

On every launch anniversary, Dr. Hawley sends a card to every single crew member from the mission, forever cementing its legacy. We hope that the tradition continues well into the future!

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